My favorite living author, who also happens to own a bookstore in Nashville, asked her readers what the title of their autobiography might be; “What would be the title of your life story?” The graphic on Parnassus’ Instagram account was a cartoony book titled “Can I Get Extra Cheese On That, a Memoir.”
Now I have nothing against cheese, in fact a day without cheese is like a day without a squeeze! But since that title was taken, I thought for maybe a split second and wrote “Victory Gardens.” That title means so much to me, and I realize it probably makes you think of the push to grow our own food after WWII, if you are of a certain age. But if my foster parents hadn’t scooped me up in Scranton at ten months of age and planted me in Victory Gardens, I might have been heading for an orphanage.
In that tiny, four room cement house, in the “temporary” development built to support the war effort at Picatinny Arsenal, I was surrounded by enough unconditional love to grow strong. You remember the ice cream truck, and the doll house Daddy Jim built from the ice cream sticks; my trips to town and free samples of everything, especially bologna at the butcher shop.
Yesterday I listened to NPR’s Fresh Air in the car and I was rooted to my seat. I couldn’t leave the car and face the oppressive 96 degree heat – plus the topic spoke to me. Two culinary historians were promoting their book about food during the Great Depression. The authors were talking about their grandparents, but we Boomers grew up with parents who lived through this period, so our childhood kitchen tables reflected that period of time perfectly. And don’t forget, I had two mothers.
In Victory Gardens, Nell would proudly tell anyone within earshot that she was really good at opening cans, then her face would light up like a Christmas tree at her own joke! I remember dinners that consisted of canned hash with a fried egg on top. A vegetable side would mean a sliced tomato. Frozen foods were a novelty, so in this Catholic house we ate frozen fish sticks on Fridays. One day a week we ate out at the diner. And for a very special occasion she might make her specialty, stuffed cabbage, a Slovakian miracle simmering in sauerkraut.
But the Flapper, in her old Queen Ann house in town, would cook! She simmered meatballs in sauce she made herself, and even though she was working ever day she managed to get a delicious hot meal on the table every night. She taught me how to shop for the freshest ingredients by season, and how to save a few pennies here and there. Of course I’ve told you about her Depression-era Mac n Cheese, the kind with bacon because they could not get real butter. One of both Moms’ favorite stories was how as a young child I could tell the difference between butter and margarine. Later I learned they had to put yellow food coloring in a Crisco-like substance in the 30s to approximate butter. And ps, I have never purchased margarine in my life!
So while listening to “Creamed Canned and Frozen” yesterday, one author spoke about bologna and mashed potato dinners. I had to smile since bologna was a staple at my cement house too. With the Flapper we made delicious ham sandwiches on rye bread with real dill pickles we picked from a barrel.
But the funniest thing the authors Jane Ziegelman and Andy Coe said was their children would not eat the food they were preparing during the writing of this book, since it didn’t look like food to them! And thinking back, canned hash does look like something maybe the dog didn’t like…http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/08/15/489991111/creamed-canned-and-frozen-how-the-great-depression-changed-u-s-dietsta The Flapper, however, cooked creatively with spices, and spicy food believe it or not was deemed suspicious in the 30s.
Spicy foods were [considered] stimulants. They were classified as stimulants, so they were on that same continuum along with caffeine and alcohol all the way up to cocaine and heroin. And if you started with an olive, you might find yourself one day addicted to opiates. It put you on a very slippery slope — watch out for olives!
Today we are asked to learn where and how our fish were harvested, what the cows have been eating before we buy a steak, and how sustainable is the farm growing our produce. Would the Flapper pay more for organic milk, like I do? It’s a wonder panic doesn’t set in the moment we think about getting a meal on the table! I wonder how or IF the Love Bug will cook, maybe she’ll use a replicator a la Star Trek? I remember how she turned her nose up at the first chicken nugget I offered her, after all, it doesn’t look like chicken!
So even though I grew up in a bland house that referenced a garden without an actual garden, where a tinned tuna casserole made with soup was considered nutritious, I managed to become a fairly inventive home cook imho thanks to the Flapper. And the real victory was when the Bride asked for all my recipes when she was setting up her own kitchen after college.
While Lee and Al were visiting I made stuffed eggplant; a recipe I made up as I went along, sauteing garlic and mushrooms, mixing with the eggplant, and of course baking with cheese sprinkled on top! This was right before they went in the oven, Bon Appetit!